4 January 2012

Recommended Reading: 'The Transition Handbook – From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience' by Rob Hopkins

In his 2008 book, Rob Hopkins argues that peak oil and climate change are inextricably linked, will have a massive impact on all aspects of modern life and an outlines how this 'transition' can be used as an opportunity to improve the economy, our lifestyles, diet, health, and the resilience of local communities.

The Peak Oil theory sensibly states that as there is only so much oil available on this planet, eventually its supply will peak and decline, causing energy costs to rise. Some people argue that this peak in production has already been reached. While the date of the peak is debatable, the inevitability of the peak itself is undeniable and the sooner we prepare for rising energy costs, the better prepared we will be.

'The Transition Handbook' links the issues of peak oil and climate change as while we continue to depend on liquid fuels for transportation, synthetic materials and fertilisers, we will continue to burn fossil fuels and accelerate climate change. If peak oil is addressed through new fossil reserves like tar sands or deep sea oil, this will only accelerate climate change through further carbon emissions. Likewise, the energy efficiency measures will not address the inevitable decline in energy supplies. Over emphasis on energy efficiency, say in buildings, could even make us more exposed to how volatile fuels costs could impact the price of food , transport and consumer goods.

Hopkins' central premise is that while adaptation or 'transition' to a post Peak Oil world is inevitable and its impact will be massive, it should be seen as an opportunity, rather than a threat. Hopkins blends aspects of grass roots activism, ecology and permaculture theories, management, economics and addiction counselling to outline a manifesto for local resilience, a state in which communities are able to absorb the shocks of volatile energy costs while prospering both culturally and economically.

Key to post Transition prosperity is the localisation of lifestyles and economies to include local production of food, energy and consumer goods, as well as renewed focus on personal interaction within communities. Rather than dictate a strict programme how this is to be achieved, 'The Transition Handbook' describes 12 key principles for Transition Initiatives and how they have already been applied to diverse areas areas including Totnes, Lewes, Penwith, Bristol and Brixton.
While 'The Transition Handbook' is not overtly political, in fact it boasts of Transition Initiatives' ability to win cross-party support, many of its central themes are very relevant to the current political agenda. The emphasis on community self-organisation and DIY government is echoed in David Cameron's idea of Localism and the 'Big Society'. Likewise, the idea of a locally written Energy Descent Action Plan, which imagines specific visions for post Transition living has parallels with the Coalition Government's plans for open-source planning and locally written Neighbourhood Plans.

However, where such policies have been criticised as woolly or impractical, 'The Transition Handbook' offers hard-won advise on how to turn a group of strangers with a common interest into an effective and resilient community. Hopkins includes a number of ideas on how to raise awareness and organise public events, such as film screenings and Open Space Days, which are all based on his own research and practical experience. Hopkins also offers genuine insights into campaigning, marketing and change management that go beyond the peak oil / climate change argument. These are based on a combination of experience and convincing research into parallels between adaptation, change management and addiction counselling.

So while 'The Transition Handbook' eloquently introduces the twin issues of Peak Oil and climate change, the real strength of the book is how it then progresses the argument with practical, upbeat and most importantly feasible examples of how the situation can be addressed.

Photo Credits
Image of an Open Space Day event, courtesy of TransitionUS
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